A Christian homeschool mother who was arrested in Cuba for refusing to send her children to government-run schools has been released after over 11 months in prison. Her husband remains imprisoned.
Pastor Adya Expósito Leyva confirmed that she was released from a women’s prison in Guantánamo last weekend.
Expósito Leyva was jailed along with her husband, Pastor Ramon Rigal, last April for homeschooling their children.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the couple homeschooled to avoid sending their kids to the government schools that promote socialism and atheism.
They were sentenced for crimes such as “acts against the normal development of a minor.”
USCIRF reports that Rigal remains in prison to serve a two-year sentence and is slated to be released in 2021.
Journalist Robert Jesus Quinones Haces is also imprisoned for allegedly trying to cover the couple’s legal trial. According to USCRIF, Haces was sentenced for “disobedience.”
“While we welcome the release of Expósito and are particularly relieved that she can be reunited with her children, we believe that she should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” USCIRF Commissioner and civil rights lawyer Anurima Bhargava said in a statement.
“The charges brought against her and her husband are part of the Cuban government’s harassment, discrimination, and arbitrary detention of individuals simply seeking to practice their religion."
Rigal and Expósito Leyva serve as representatives of Abundant Faith Ministry International headquartered in Nicaragua.
Marvyn Thomas, chief executive of the United Kingdom-based watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, welcomed the pastor’s release and also called on authorities to allow her to enjoy her freedom without harassment.
According to CSW, the bullying of children in school because of their religious beliefs is “relatively common” in Cuba.
CSW said it received “a number of cases” involving pastors’ kids being denied educational opportunities or singled out because their parents hold “counter-revolutionary ideas.’”
Two Jewish boys were barred from entering their school while wearing kippahs, CSW reported last December. Authorities threatened to open up legal proceedings against their parents.
“The Cuban authorities’ targeting of children on account of their religious beliefs or those of their parents is a deplorable violation of fundamental human rights,” Thomas said in a statement. “We call on the Cuban authorities to ensure that there is no religious discrimination in schools and that parents are afforded the right to place their children in an education system of their choosing.”
This week, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro called on Cuba to release thousands of political prisoners to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Cuba’s prisons.
According to USCRIF, Cuban prisons are overcrowded and lack adequate sanitary conditions.
“More than ever during this global pandemic, the Cuban government must release Pastor Rigal and Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, along with others held in Cuba for their beliefs or advocacy of religious freedom,” USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer, a longtime social conservative activist, said in a statement.
“With the coronavirus spreading on the island, the conditions in Cuban prisons are a ticking time bomb. We implore the Cuban government not to further punish individuals for their most deeply held convictions by keeping them behind bars despite the present danger.”
In Cuba, there are at least 269 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and six related deaths as of Friday afternoon.
Last December, the U.S. State Department added Cuba to its “special watch list” of countries that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” There have been hundreds of religious freedom violations in Cuba over the last several years, CSW reports.
Last July, Cuba barred evangelical leaders from traveling to the U.S. to participate in the State Department's historic Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. One of the leaders wrote on Facebook at the time that she was banned from traveling because the regime considered the ministerial to be a “counter-revolutionary event.”